Brazil’s path to Tokyo 2020 paved with podiums
Date: March 20, 2020
By Alison Thompson | For IBSA
The Brazilian women’s goalball team have every reason to be confident ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
After the country won the right to host Rio 2016, even more was invested in being prepared for a home Games. Their subsequent fourth place finish, whilst not the podium they desired, was their best ever finish since their debut in 2004.
In the four years since Rio 2016, Brazil have really come into their own. They reached their first World Championships podium in 2018 with bronze and won the Parapan American title in Lima, Peru, in 2019.
Central to their success are players like Jessica Vitorino. With ten years of goalball under her belt, the 27-year-old is ready for the battles to come.
“Since the day we qualified for the Paralympics, my ambition is to improve as a player every day so that I can remain among the six girls who will represent Brazil,” Vitorino said. “As a team, our ambition is getting to the best place on the podium.”
The team are doing everything they can to reach their goal. Their preparation includes monthly training sessions at the Brazilian Paralympic Training Centre alongside a full team of psychologists, physiotherapists, coaches and nutritionists.
“[Our coach] demands the best of each on the court,” Vitorino continued. “My focus is to achieve perfection in defence. I believe that this is the greatest foundation in goalball. I love when I make beautiful defences and I like to be challenged.”
Having become involved with goalball through one of her teachers looking for young people to take part in the annual school ‘Paralympics’, it did not take long for Vitorino’s love for the sport to grow.
“It may sound funny, but what caught my attention in goalball was precisely the ball,” she laughs, “and my greatest desire was to practice some sport that was with the ball. As there was still no women's 5-a-side football, I ended up falling in love with goalball and had everything I expected”.
Through her club – Cetefe in Brasilia – with that love grew skill, ability and experience that has seen Vitorino and her team reach new heights in the two years in the run up to Tokyo 2020.
Vitorino, like all goalball players, has a diverse range of skills. The ability to score goals with only three players on the court is essential, as well as good defence, and Vitorino herself contributed two goals in Brazil’s 7-2 win over Canada for bronze in 2018.
“As it was my first World Cup, it was already wonderful,” Vitorino said. “In addition, it was in this competition that we won the first podium for women's goalball in World Championships. I am proud that I am a part of the history of women’s goalball in my country.
“Winning gold [at Lima 2019] was a mixture of feelings – gratitude, satisfaction and duty but the win has just given me the certainty that we are on the right path and more willing to win gold this year.”
Again Vitorino has a crucial part to play in Brazil’s gold-medal win over the USA.
“In the final there were 18 seconds left, we were losing 3 to 2, I was on the bench, when our coach warned me that I was going to enter the game. At no time I thought we were going to lose – my goal was to make a difference and that was how it was done. I scored the goal that led us to the golden goal and, in the end, we won.”
With notable success behind them and confidence ahead of Tokyo 2020 high, Vitorino says she is ready to take on the strongest of teams:
“Turkey [Paralympic champions], Russia [world champions] and Japan [Asian champions] are likely to be our toughest opponents, for their long history of games against Brazil. However, we are prepared. As well as training sessions, personally, I have been preparing for this year both physically and mentally.
“An athlete's life begins with willpower.”
Goalball at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place at Makuhari Messe Hall C from 26 August until 4 September when the medal games will be played.